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Jean-Luc Godard dedicated his first film, Breathless, to Monogram Pictures, and Dillinger (1945) was probably the main reason why. Short and brutal, like the Depression outlaw's brashly improvisatory career, Max Nosseck's picture was a bit of an outlaw enterprise itself. In the '40s the major Hollywood studios had all taken a vow of chastity when it came to glorifying the headline-grabbing gangsters of the previous decade; Monogram ignored the embargo and barreled ahead, grabbing some headlines of its own and more box office than usual for a Poverty Row operation. Philip Yordan's script was Oscar-nominated (on the DVD's commentary track he co-credits his friend William Castle, director of Monogram's excellent When Strangers Marry), though the film has a patchwork feel to it, as if assembled and reassembled on the run. Directed by Max Nosseck, it's a hypnotic mix of bargain-basement filmmaking (lotsa stock footage and stark, minimalist sets), astute ripoff (the rain-and-gas-bomb robbery sequence from Fritz Lang's You Only Live Once), and Brechtian bravura. Newcomer Lawrence Tierney nails the guy's coldblooded freakiness and animal magnetism. Producers Maurice and Frank King would make the great Gun Crazy four years later.

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WA69536 Dillinger DVD (1945/Lawrence Tierney) $19.98 $17.99